1. Book Reviews – 2020

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Rating Scale:

  1. *****  Fantastic! You’ve gotta read this one!
  2. ****  Great. Well worth a look
  3. ***   OK. You may enjoy it.
  4. **    Not so great. Either dull, badly written, or just plain awful. Not recommended
  5. *     Unspeakably bad. Couldn’t finish it

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“The Pumpkin Farmer” by Michael Hughes

Rating:    

Genre: Fiction: Suspense/Thriller

Read:   April 2020

 

“The Quest for the Golden Bracelet” by Jasmine Fogwell

Rating:    

Genre: Fiction: Middle Grade/Childrens

Read: April 2020

   

“Where the Truth Lies” by Karina Kilmore

Rating:    

Genre: Fiction: Suspense/Thriller

Read:   April 2020

“Starting Over at Acorn Cottage” by Kate Forster


Rating:  ***** 

Genre: Fiction: Romance/Chick Lit

Read:  March 2020

“Starting over at Acorn Cottage” by Kate Forster has a little bit of everything; drama, despair, baking, renovations, love and a touch a magic.

Clara’s life is a mess. On discovering that her partner has been having an affair with her best friend, she throws caution to the wind, buys a rural property sight unseen, and chucks in her job in to start a life at Acorn Cottage. After a few minor setbacks, Clara forges new friendships with local baker Rachael, retired teacher Tassie, and the handsome handyman, Henry.

The characters are wonderful, flawed, believable and relatable. The plot flows smoothly, making it a hard book to put down. This is more than a simple romance novel, through the tales of three women and their interconnecting lives, it examines coming to terms with past mistakes and wrongs, managing emotions and rebuilding lives.

In the current world climate, it is wonderful to read such an uplifting and enjoyable piece, “Starting over at Acorn Cottage” is a light, engaging and delightful piece of escapism.

“Bjelke Blues” edited by Edina Shaw

Rating: ***

Genre: Non-Fiction: Politics/Social Commentary

Read:  March 2020

A mixed bag of articles from various publications about living in the 1980s in Queensland under the rule of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. As a complete work it is rather interesting and offers a rich and varied assessment of the times. The standard of writing (both in terms of factual information and individual style) varies significantly across the individual pieces. An interesting read for those who lived in Queensland at the time, and those with a passion for political commentary.

“The Other Mrs Miller” by Allison Dickson

Rating:   ***

Genre: Fiction: Crime Thriller/Domestic Noir

Read:  March 2020

Phoebe Miller is a woman who appears to have everything. Everything material that is, but her home life is a shambles. Following the death of her father, a public figure and business tycoon of considerable wealth,  it becomes apparent that his personal behaviour was less than exemplary, with many complaints of sexual harassment hitting the press. On the domestic front, Phoebe and her husband are coming to terms (or not) with their irreconcilable differences relating to starting a family. Aside from monitoring the strange courier who seems to spend a lot of time parked in her street,  Phoebe has withdrawn from the world, and taken to drinking in isolation to get through the days. That is until the Napier family and their very striking teenage son move into the house across the street.

“The Other Mrs Miller” is packed with deeply flawed characters, all battling their personal demons. The female characters, especially the Mrs Millers, are relatable on some levels, and the believability of their thoughts and actions carry the book through to its conclusion. They are difficult to like, but perhaps this is because they are a little too like us.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The author has a beautiful style and there are some wonderful, emotive and thought-provoking sentences throughout the book. The chapters switch between the points of view of Mrs Miller, and unknown narrators, creating an intriguing mystery that keeps you reading.

I enjoyed the story, however, I felt that the second half lacked the consistency of pacing and credibility of the first. The story is a little far-fetched. Having said that, “The Other Mrs Miller” by Allison Dickson is a fun and thrill packed ride, which will be enjoyed by people who like books/shows like “Big Little Lies”.

I received a free copy of this book through Sisters in Crime – Australia, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA” by Amaryllis Fox

Rating:   ****1/2

Genre: Non Fiction: Memoir

Read:  March 2020

“Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA” by Amaryllis Fox’ memoir describes a surprisingly full and varied life for a woman with so few years under her belt.

She starts her tale by recounting the key events of her youth, and her relationships with her brother, stoic mother and frequently absent father. Of particular interest is her university days and how she was recruited into the CIA – a process I found fascinating, creepy and alarming all at the same time.

After briefly covering the training regime part of her recruitment, she dives into descriptions of her assignments. Fox writes from her heart when she describes her encounters with terrorists, arms dealers and other folk, whom most of us (thankfully) only ever see from a distance. Sure, it’s possible that she has used some poetic licence in descriptions of events, but there would be a lot from her CIA life which she is not free to disclose. Her writing conveys a sense of honesty and thoughtfulness as she looks into the lives of those who engage in terrorist activities and contemplates their reasons for doing so.

Not to neglect all areas of her life, Fox describes the impact that her work with the CIA had on her in terms of social isolation. She describes how having to lie constantly to her family, and the few friends she has (who are mostly in the Agency) created a personal identity crisis and constant stress and bouts of depression. She provides alarming descriptions of the toll her work had on her interpersonal relationship, including two painful and disastrous marriages, rushed into at the direction of the Agency.

Fox proves that life in the CIA (or any spy organisation for that matter) is not for the feint hearted. The enormity of the personal and emotional sacrifice from all involved is laid out on the pages for all to see, creating a deeply personal, alarming and moving work. I am eternally grateful that this isn’t my life.

If you like spy stories like “Little Drummer Girl” and “Homeland” then “Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA” by Amaryllis Fox is a real-life version you’ll really love. I am not a huge fan of the memoir or spy tales generally, but I found this fascinating. It’s easy to read and compelling, and therefore a hard one to put down.

I received a free copy of this book through Sisters in Crime – Australia, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“The Institute” by Stephen King

Rating:   ****1/2

Genre: Fiction: Suspense/Horror

Read:  February 2020

4.5 stars. Children with indicators of telepathy and telekinesis are being kidnapped and taken to a hidden research facility (think “Firestarter”) for nefarious purposes. Will Luke and his friends find a way out of The Institute, and will police office Tim Jamieson be able to uncover the trial of clues and solve the mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed “The Institute”, it’s right up there with some of Kings classic novels (and recent triumphs like “Doctor Sleep”). Excellent character development, engaging story with lot of that wonderful slow build that King is famous for. This is a difficult book to put down, so be prepared for some sleepless nights. A must for King fans.

“Young Soul Rebels: A Personal History of Northern Soul” by Stuart Cosgrove

Rating:   ****1/2 

Genre: Non Fiction: Memoir/Music

Read: February 2020

4.5 stars. “Young Soul Rebels: A Personal History of Northern Soul” by Stuart Cosgrove is a comprehensive and engaging look at the birth and on-going development of the Northern Soul scene in the UK. Cosgrove is a compelling writer whose style allows you to feel as if you were right there with him at the Twisted Wheel, looking down from the balcony at Wigan Casio and on the promenade at Blackpool. Not only is this a stellar review of the music and style of the movement, it’s offers readers a social history – allowing a glimpse into British life across the decades. Of note are the references to notorious serial killer, Peter Sutcliffe, the coal miners’ strikes and the impact of the Thatcher government. I must admit to being a fan of Northern Soul music, but I am by no means an aficionado (being more into Mod, Ska, Funk & Jazz). A must read for lovers of the scene and music generally.

“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles

Rating:   *****

Genre: Fiction: Literary Fiction

Read:  

Following the Bolshevik revolutions, Count Alexander Rostov (Sasha to his friends) is declared to be a ‘Former Person’ and sentenced for the term of his natural life, to house arrest at the Metropol hotel. Always the optimist, the Count makes the most of his circumstances, living life to the full in a small space. This is a wonderful story about life in the USSR in the 20th century. It is charming, witty, fascinating and enchanting. The story draws you in until you feel part of the furniture at the Metropol. It was an absolute shame to finish reading it, and I’m determined to source more work by the author.

“Tokyo: DK Eyewitness Travel Guide” by Jon Burbank

Rating:  **** 

Genre: Non Fiction: Travel Guide

Read: February 2020  

I really like the Eyewitness Travel series of guides and find that they are excellent tools when planning a trip. The Tokyo version is great, with a comprehensive breakdown of the areas of the city (including suggestions for self-conducted walking tours) and great suggestions for day trips to surrounding areas. This pocket size guide is easy to pack, and contains great maps and handy hints and tips (like what menu items are, which travel passes to buy etc). If you are going to Tokyo, this book is worth the investment.

“The Stand” by Stephen King


Rating:  ****1/2

Genre: Fiction: Supernatural Thriller/Horror

Read: January 2020  

When a man-made virus is accidentally released to the general public, over 90% of the world’s population dies. The remaining members of the human race are subject to a bizarre shared dreams involving either a kind elderly African-American woman, or a strange and menacing dark man. The survivors follow their instincts and side with the charismatic but evil Randall Flagg in Las Vegas, or the humanist Mother Abigail in Boulder. Eventually to good citizens need to take a stand against the forces of evil.

It’s been years since I first read this book. The story is still as gripping and involving as it always was. In retrospect it isn’t as well written as some of his later books, but well worth the time it takes to read. (And at over 2000 pages it takes time).

“She Lover of Death” by Boris Akunin

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction: Mystery

Read: January 2020  

This was a bit of a random selection on my part, having never read any others author’s other works, and therefor none of the others in the Fandorin mysteries series. I am pleased to say that I rather enjoyed the twisted tale of the “Lovers of Death” poetry reading and suicide society, and the lives of the various players involved. Akunin has a rather odd style writing, but this may be due to the translation of the original work. Well worth a look, especially for those with an interested in Russian society.

“Japan – Lonely Planet” by Rebecca Milner, et al

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Travel

Read: January 2020  

Handy and comprehensive guide to travelling around Japan. Excellent information on transport options, tourist hot spots and seasonal information. Comes with a pull out map and Narita airport card . My only criticisms – the print is very small and the book if very chunky (not the best option for the luggage. Great pre-holiday reading.

“Quentin Tarantino: The Iconic Filmmaker and his works” by Ian Nathan

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Media 

Read: January 2020  

Nathan has put together a comprehensive review of Tarantino’s life so far, career and artistic endeavours. This wonderfully presented coffee table book is full of brilliant images, interesting facts and many (perhaps a little excessive) observations about the writing and filming processes of pieces such as Reservoir Dogs, True, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Bastards et al. Worth a look for both fans of Tarantino and the Hollywood movie scene in general.

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Previous Years Book Reviews: Archives

2019: 2019 Book Reviews 

2018: BOOKS REVIEWED IN 2018

2017: 2017 Book Reviews by Sarah Jackson

2016: 2016-book-reviews

2015: 2015 Book reviews download